Going into the 2014 season, the Steelers needed someone to back up and potentially spell their young running back, Le’Veon Bell.
The Steelers signed veteran back LaGarette Blount to a modest deal for 2 seasons, and it looked like a great match. We all know how that turned out, with Blount walking off the field early in Tennessee, and then promptly cut.
It’s clear now Blount was the wrong choice, but I believe signing a veteran free agent at the backup running back position was completely the right move.
People in the NFL world have been talking about the running back position being devalued for years, but in 2014 we really saw that play out in free agency.
- Knowshon Moreno was coming off a season with 1,500 total yards and 13 touchdowns and received a 1 year deal worth $3 million.
- Ben Tate was the young backup to Arian Foster averaging 4.6 ypc over his career and got 2 years, $6.2 million.
- Veteran Ahmad Bradshaw, who was the Colts best RB this season only got a 1 year deal for $885K
- Justin Forsett who made the pro bowl, and really saved the Ravens season was playing on a 1 year, $885K contract
These are just a few examples of affordable contracts teams had last season at the position.
I’d expect a similar class in 2015 and believe the Steelers could land a good player for a small amount against the cap.
With Le’Veon Bell likely to miss the first 2 games, and a solid chance the Steelers will have a game with big playoff implications in week 1 at New England; a veteran back would be a huge help.
It’s a deep class for running backs in the 2015 draft, so I wouldn’t be opposed to grabbing one there too, but a veteran that can start the first two weeks would be ideal.
Here are a few guys I like and why I think they’d be a good fit.
Frank Gore – The 49ers all-time leading rusher will be 32 when the season starts. He’s had a great career for the Niners, but with the team spending a 2nd round pick on Carlos Hyde last season it’s likely they let him walk.
I tried to find a 32 year old back to compare Gore to, to see what kind of money they received in free agency… and couldn’t find one. Gore’s not only old, he’s had a heavy workload in his career. Typically he’s exactly the type of back I’d say stay away from.
That being said, Gore’s coming off his 4th consecutive 1,100 season, and has been a model of health and consistency. Gore would be a great option for 1 season as a backup to Bell, and starter for the 2 games he’s suspended. That would also give the team time to develop a young draft pick behind those other 2 as well.
Gore, unlike Blount, would also be able to teach Bell and any other young backs how to be a professional.
Ahmad Bradshaw – The Steelers showed some interested in Bradshaw last off-season before he ended up signing with the Colts. Bradshaw’s a solid all-around back that was having a very good season in Indy before getting hurt.
Durability is a major issue, but he wouldn’t be getting a huge workload outside the first couple weeks of the season. That may be enough to keep him healthy.
Roy Helu – Helu has been a very good back in a limited role for the Redskins over the years, and could fill a similar role in Pittsburgh. Despite a lack of carries last season, he had an impressive 5.4 yards per carry average, while catching 42 balls.
Helu would make it so the dump-off games doesn’t come out of the playbook just because Bell leaves the field. I think Helu could really thrive behind the Steelers’ athletic offensive line.
Matt Asiata(RFA) – Adrian Peterson’s former backup has a really interesting skill-set, not completely unlike LaGarette Blount. While Asiata’s never going to be a guy you want to feature long term, he’s a good short yardage back, that also has some soft hands.
Asiata is a restricted free agent. Depending on whether or not Peterson returns though, he may not be tendered by the team.
All of these guys have some flaws in their game, or they wouldn’t be so readily available. I think the fact that we didn’t see many carries from Blount anyway means the Steelers could take a risk on some older or injury prone types of guys.
There’s some other guys I like as well such as C.J. Spiller, Knowshon Moreno, or Stevan Ridley, but I think they could possibly demand more money elsewhere.
Regardless of what the Steelers do, they need to find a back that they’re confident can shoulder the load for a couple of games.